Last week, national rotisserie chicken chain Boston Market announced it would no longer stock its dining tables with salt. Its aim is to reduce the sodium content of its products—by 20 percent over the next six months. Salt will be available at a central condiment bar, just not on dining tables. Pepper, for the record, will remain unregulated at Boston Market.
Now, I wouldn't likely salt my chicken at Boston Market—have you eaten at a Boston Market?—but I am no fan of salt-free tables. That chain's move is but one (particularly nannyish) front in an industry-wide assault on salt. In high-end dining rooms where salt is withheld, it is typically done out of something closer to culinary arrogance: a chef's unwavering belief that he or she has seasoned the food so perfectly any addition will ruin the dish.
Into the same category one can place those kitchens who instruct their waiters to inform their diners, not ask them, how their meat will be cooked. Increasingly chefs no longer see themselves as cooks, serving at the pleasure of their patrons, but as artistes, whose gastronomic statements must be revered regardless of whether they satisfy the diners paying for them.
Recently I stumbled across a funnier, if unwitting, strategy for withholding salt: make sure the saltshaker is impossible to use. I enjoyed a terrific lunch at FareStart, the admirable operation that trains homeless individuals in restaurant service, where I reached for the high-tech salt dispenser when I found my Israeli couscous needed it. Through plastic I could see it was both a salt and a pepper grinder, but the dial was set to P and pepper's all that came out when I crunched the lever. Try as I might I couldn't work out how to set it to S.
Finally, stupidly, I asked my server, who laughed and showed me how to twist it around to the S. Not intuitive, she kindly assured me, adding that she fields several requests for instructions every week. "One guy was so frustrated he just ripped the handle off," she chuckled.
If that's not a vote for salt on the table, I don't know what is.